« Sixth Circuit judges duel over Ohio defendant's old lethal injection challenge | Main | American Amanda Knox sentenced to 26 year in Italian murder case »

December 4, 2009

"Pastor Offers Sex Offenders A 'Miracle': A New Start"

The title of this post is the headline of this new NPR story about a pastor in Florida who ministers to a community of convicted sex offenders.  Here is how the piece gets started:

More than 20 states, including Florida, limit where convicted sex offenders can live — keeping them away from schools, parks and other places where children congregate.  In Miami, dozens of homeless sex offenders live under a bridge because there are few, if any, options nearby.  But 90 miles away, there's a community dedicated to housing sex offenders.

Here is a segment of the piece providing part of the pastor's interesting back-story:

[Dick] Witherow believes people can change.  At Miracle Park, those on probation attend weekly court-ordered sex therapy sessions.  He also offers anger-management classes and sessions on relationships, inner healing and life skills.

Witherow has authored a book about sex offenders called The Modern Day Leper.  He says he could have worn the same label as the men at Miracle Park.  He was 18 years old when he met his first wife.  She was just 14, and before long she was pregnant.  A judge allowed them to get married but told Witherow he could have been charged with statutory rape.

"If that would have happened in today's society, I would have been charged with sexual battery on a minor, been given anywhere from 10 to 25 years in prison, plus extended probation time after that, and then been labeled a sex offender," he says.   Witherow knows that there are those who argue that's what should have happened.

December 4, 2009 at 03:15 PM | Permalink

TrackBack

TrackBack URL for this entry:
http://www.typepad.com/services/trackback/6a00d83451574769e201287611ed92970c

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference "Pastor Offers Sex Offenders A 'Miracle': A New Start":

Comments

I admire this deeply. At it's root Christianity is a conversion religion. That is indeed something all Christians of the various sects and denominations believe in. If you don't believe people can convert, you're not a Christian. So I admire any person that not only says but lives the reality that Christianity is more than just helping nice wealthy upper middle class people convert.

Posted by: Daniel | Dec 4, 2009 3:29:35 PM

Daniel --

What it immediately reminded me of was the school of thought, also I beleive largely Christian, that claims to be able to "convert" homosexuals from their "sinful ways."

I strongly suspect both are full of baloney. Sexual preference is inbred so strongly and so early that the notion of "conversion" is essentially a pipedream.

Wasn't it the late and (here) unlamented Maurice Clemmons, killer extraordinaire, who said in his clemency petition that he was "converted?" Aren't they all.

The notion of conversion might not be 100% hokum -- I express no opinion on that -- but it is for sure one of the more frequently enlisted phony items on the word processors of people who write defense-oriented sentencing memos and clemency petitions.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Dec 4, 2009 4:03:10 PM

While I'm not so dismissive of the pastor's efforts, I am nevertheless somewhat skeptical of his understanding of the issue. By his own account, he did something that could have labeled him a child rapist and sentenced him to prison followed by a lifetime of misery. Instead he got a wife and child, thanks to a judge's forebearance. But did he require counseling? Does he believe his conduct was ultimately sinful? I would suggest that an 18-year old marrying a 14-year old is not egregious conduct.

But he is ministering to a diverse and unhomogenous group, some of whom are "sex offenders" to a lesser degree even than he was. Yet they are offered counseling, not to help them come to grips with the injustice heaped upon them, but with the supposed demons that drove them to commit crimes, whether those crimes were evil or not.

I'm glad he's offering comfort and support for those considered the least deserving, but some of them need real relief from a one-size-fits-all legal regime that treats a streaker at a public event the same as someone who rapes a child.

Posted by: Anonymous | Dec 4, 2009 5:13:38 PM

Bill. While I consider myself a Christian my larger point was that I respect someone who actually practices what he preaches. You may dislike that preaching, and a thing isn't true simply because a man dies for it, but I think it's honorable behavior. Otherwise, what's the point in accusing someone of hypocrisy.

Posted by: Daniel | Dec 4, 2009 5:22:58 PM

Daniel --

It's not that I "dislike" the preaching. I simply think it has little or no factual basis.

I have seen so many of these self-serving and adroitly timed, "I'm a changed man!" protestations that I would have to have the credulity of a five year-old to take them at face value anymore.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Dec 4, 2009 6:00:50 PM

Anonymous --

An 18 year-old having intercourse with a 14 year-old is one thing. A 48 year-old doing the same thing is something else.

For the former to be catagorized as a sex offender could be just or unjust, depending on the maturity and circumstances of those involved. For the latter to be so categorized is simply to state the obvious, and I would scarcely say that getting labelled a sex offender in that case is a "heaping on of injustice."

The notion, sub silentio peddled here, that many sex offenders and just impulsive teens, or streakers, is complete baloney, as I suspect you know. The vast majority of sex offenders are adult men who in one way or another force themselves on unwilling girls or women. There's not a whole lot more to it than that.

When that's their attitude, and their behavior, there's a limit on how much sympathy they're going to get, or deserve, from normal people.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Dec 4, 2009 6:13:31 PM

Bill. As an objective matter I can imagine that what you say is true: there is no factual basis because lots of people lie to get what they want. But I still respect the man for standing up for what he believes in even if there is no objective basis for it. There is obviously a subjective basis for it--his faith--and in my opinion as a psychologist that's just as much a valid basis for external action as an objective basis is.

I think you and he have different foundations for action. And I think both are legitimate.


Posted by: Daniel | Dec 4, 2009 6:47:40 PM

Daniel --

You have more faith in faith than I, but I hear you, and, on that basis, I don't disagree.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Dec 4, 2009 7:12:51 PM

i think he better shut up and stop talking about it. Under the laws in place NOW he can BE CHARGED NOW for what happened then. Just look at all the catholic priest's getting hung up now.

Posted by: rodsmith3510 | Dec 5, 2009 12:52:06 AM

It really doesn't seem to me that the basis of this community is a focus on conversion or re-orientation. Seems that the focus is more or less on re-entry and providing offenders with a place to live.

While it probably is true that sexual preference really can't be altered that much, it's probably also true that a lot of people on the registry aren't there because of a sexual preference (of course, there are some that are).

But I also think that if the criminal law field drops any notion or pretense that people can change their behavior, if not their attitudes, then all of a sudden this system of crime and punishment looks a lot more bleak.

I have got to believe that providing people who, deserved or not, are really modern day lepers with help in the form of counseling and a roof over their heads can only go to serve the public good -- not to undermine it.

Of course, that's just my .02.

Posted by: Guy | Dec 5, 2009 4:26:21 AM

They got to be able to live somewhere. Maybe we need a penal colony where they can work and live free but away from playgrounds.

Posted by: mpb | Dec 5, 2009 4:58:01 AM

The difference between sex offenders and lepers is that lepers had no choice.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Dec 5, 2009 6:48:01 AM

Anonymous writes: ..."but some of them need real relief from a one-size-fits-all legal regime that treats a streaker at a public event the same as someone who rapes a child."

...or regards Martha Stewart as roughly akin to Jeffrey Dahmer....

Bill writes: ..."The difference between sex offenders and lepers is that lepers had no choice."

Oh really? Personally I'm not so sure people acting under sexual compulsions have any more "choice" over what they are than lepers do. To buy into Bill's bad-choices theory is to write off pedophile priests as evil predators simply failing to make good choices...as opposed to weak, flawed men incapable of resisting powerful temptations.

Posted by: John K | Dec 6, 2009 12:43:04 AM

John K. The problem is that in practice it's difficult to sort the two types out. There really are bad guys out there who do it by choice. But most molesters were people who have been molested themselves. People often talk about an epidemic of child abuse but the truth is that this "epidemic" is the way life was lived for most of human history. Molesters haven't changed by social attitudes towards molesters have changed.

One of the deep ironies is that it is the "sexually liberated" boomers who created this moral panic. It's as if they woke up one day and realized that they didn't like the 60s after all.

Posted by: Daniel | Dec 6, 2009 1:52:34 AM

John K --

"Personally I'm not so sure people acting under sexual compulsions have any more 'choice' over what they are than lepers do. To buy into Bill's bad-choices theory is to write off pedophile priests as evil predators simply failing to make good choices...as opposed to weak, flawed men incapable of resisting powerful temptations."

A wise man once told me: You can't help how you feel, but you can help how you act.

If we are to treat child predators as persons "incapable of resisting powerful temptations," why stop there? I am powerfully tempted to drive away in my neighbor's Mercedes. Is that OK too?

To allow "powerful temptation" to be the get-out-of-jail-free card is to essentially promote the end of the criminal justice system. I can't think of a crime that gets commited for any reason OTHER than the criminal was tempted to commit it -- and then went ahead.

Your view to the contrary, there is such a thing as "conscience." Every human being confronts temptation to do evil. And every human being has a choice to say "no" or to....go right ahead. I do not care to live in a world that promotes your "go right ahead" theory, and if such a world comes about, I'm quite sure you won't like living in it either. Especially after your eight year-old gets raped by the priest (or coach or teacher) or whoever else you swooningly portray as the helpless "victim" of temptation, no more to be punished than a leper.

Moreover, your theory of quasi-irresistable temptation has a corollary I'm sure you won't like. If sex crime really IS caused by such powerful temptation, then we have no choice but to incarcerate for life those so "afflicted." Is that what you want?

I think it's appalling that the eight year-old's of the world should be put in danger as the sacrifice for self-congratulating "high-minded" and "compassionate" adults -- adults who know full well that THEY'LL not be the ones to pay the price for the consequences of their naive and indulgent attitudes toward child molestation.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Dec 6, 2009 1:26:34 PM

"They got to be able to live somewhere. Maybe we need a penal colony where they can work and live free but away from playgrounds.

Posted by: mpb | Dec 5, 2009 4:58:01 AM"

Well mbp under the ONLY supreme court decision on registration they are legally allowed to LIVE WHERE THEY WANT. WORK WHERE THEY WANT, GO WHERE THEY WANT! WITH NO SUPERVISON. Those were the reason the court found the registry WASN'T like PROBATION/PARLE therefore LEGAL. There was not even a requirment TO DO INPERSON UPDATES. Simply return a postcard once a year. THAT is what the U.S SUPREME COURT said was LEGAL. Sooner or later one of these cases it going to get back in front of them. AT that point you and the state can way GOOD-BYE to every law covering them passed since 2002. They are all ILLEGAL under that DECISON.

Posted by: rodsmith3510 | Dec 7, 2009 2:50:36 AM

And I will be laughing my head off when it happens. Not because of what will happen when 100's of thousands will drop of the registry. Which actualy will have no effect on the criminal records. But becasue at that point they can then sue the state for it's CRIMINAL ACTIVITY.

Since there are 1000's of them who have been convicted and served sentences under these illegal laws. Not to mention the 1000's forced from homes and jobs becsue of them. The state WILL be liable for it all.

Which is the ONLY way to get a politicians attention. Hit them in the wallet!

Posted by: rodsmith3510 | Dec 7, 2009 2:53:29 AM

Great point Bill and Rod. The dominoes are beginning to fall! Kentucky and Maine State Supreme courts have recently both pronounced that certain retroactive residency restrictions limiting where SO's may live are indeed unconstitutional. (There may be other states that I'm unaware of who have also done so.) Yet, it's clear now powers- that- be are starting to see the gross error in their knee-jerk reactions with legislation over the past decade. I applaud the efforts of the pastor at Miracle Park, FL. Nevertheless, I look for the day when such "colonies" will no longer be necessary within the boarders of this so-called CHRISTIAN nation.

Posted by: dcksb | Dec 7, 2009 5:51:10 AM

Mr. Otis, after reading a lot of your posts, I really find it hard to believe you care about eight year olds, or anybody else. Powerful people are so totally convinced they are RIGHT, and GOOD, and they have NO mercy whatsoever. That same eight year old you claim to be concerned about, will grow up, and just may fall into such a pitiful plight at the men under the bridge. We are all children of God, even you. Do not be self righteous.

Posted by: DLJ | Dec 7, 2009 10:13:05 AM

When Jesus seperates the sheep from the goats, I expect he will now add, "Ye saw me sleeping under a bridge with no home, and ye gave me no help."

Posted by: DLJ | Dec 7, 2009 10:18:12 AM

DLJ --

"That same eight year old you claim to be concerned about, will grow up, and just may fall into such a pitiful plight at the men under the bridge. We are all children of God, even you."

I just love your phrase, "...may just FALL INTO such a pitiful plight..."

They don't "fall into" anything. They manipulate and seduce, or often just forcibly rape, children. The idea that this is "falling into" something is preposterous. However I understand your need to make it seems like just slipping on the floor -- something that happens to the criminal, rather than something that he does.

P.S. Where did you get the idea that you speak for God?

Posted by: Bill Otis | Dec 7, 2009 2:36:33 PM

bill: "What it immediately reminded me of was the school of thought, also I beleive largely Christian, that claims to be able to "convert" homosexuals from their "sinful ways.""

me: so we condemn all religious and question all "conversions" because of the dubious beliefs of a few?

bill: "I strongly suspect both are full of baloney. Sexual preference is inbred so strongly and so early that the notion of "conversion" is essentially a pipedream""

me: again, you are using a very narrow religious belief by a small group to cast asperions on all religions and all of the religious. you also seem to be missing the point that that group in question denies what biological science tell us and insists that human sexuality is a "choice." also its interesting to note that a large percentage of the christian right who push that theory seem to end up at gay bars or picking up male prostitutes which probably proves your point that denying their true selves doesn't help (one wonders how come women keep marrying those ultra christian right guys - especially since those same people tend to see a woman's place as being in the home with the children while her gay husband is running around having sex with other men - or the christian right guy will be heterosexual and just running around with his secretary or female prostitutes). the falsity of your example is pretty apparent - the so called "ex-gay" counseling denies the existance of a problem and says it is just a choice - so it is basically like the ostrich burying its head in the sand. sex offender counseling is based on acknowleging and controlling the problem.

Its very gentlemanly of you to keep making me feel smart, but you really can do better.

bill: "Wasn't it the late and (here) unlamented Maurice Clemmons, killer extraordinaire, who said in his clemency petition that he was "converted?" Aren't they all."

me: oopsie, maybe I spoke too soon. so not only do we dismiss all religious converstions and even attempts of religious conversions and religious based counseling, but we also suspect taht everyone who converts is going to kill a bunch of people and is lying.

i don't know if it was being a prosecutor whcih caused you to lose all faith in humanity and always expect the worst out of everyone or something else, but I find it rather sad that you or anyone else has such a cynical view of the world.

Posted by: virginia | Dec 7, 2009 3:12:30 PM

Ginny --

I believe it's you, not me, who keeps reminding the board of how smart you are. And maybe you are. But you're not proving it with these arguments.

You upbraid me for allegedly scolding all religion (which I have never done), yet within a very few sentences you are scolding -- to use a mild term -- the "religious right" in the same broadbrush terms you have used before. Indeed obsession with the religious right seems to be a bee in your bonnet.

As for religious conversions: I have seen them happen to people I know and admire, so I scarcely dismiss them. But I would be a fool to accept whole cloth these jailhouse conversions conveniently timed for the clemency petition, and backed by little or no tested, plausible evidence.

"...a large percentage of the christian right who push that theory seem to end up at gay bars or picking up male prostitutes."

Really? What percentage? I don't know a whole lot about gay bars or the Christian right for that matter, so I'm always looking to learn. How do you know any of what you claim here? And what are the figures? You say a "large percentage," so you must have something in mind. What is it? 40%? 60% 73.42%? What?

"...so not only do we dismiss all religious converstions and even attempts of religious conversions and religious based counseling, but we also suspect taht everyone who converts is going to kill a bunch of people and is lying."

I have my doubts about a person whose conversion miraculously occurs just in time for, and in contemplation of, his application for clemency -- yes, I certianly do. I don't know if all of them are lying. But most of them are, as you know just as well as I do.

"i don't know if it was being a prosecutor whcih caused you to lose all faith in humanity and always expect the worst out of everyone or something else, but I find it rather sad that you or anyone else has such a cynical view of the world."

So would I if it were true.

Should I respond by saying, "I don't know if it was being a defense lawyer which caused you to be so gullible and always fall for every deceitful, excuse-laden sob story that comes across your office desk, but I find it rather sad that you or anyone else has such a credulous view of the world."

Two can play this game, sweetie. But it's stupid, so let's can it. The truth is that (1) defense lawyers aren't really all that gullible, because they learn better with experience, and (2) if anything, they're more cynical than prosecutors tend to be, because they get lied to even more often.

I view the world as a generally good and welcoming place. I tried to make it a better and more welcoming one by keeping dangerous, crooked and violent people off the street. If you're waiting for me to apologize for that, you'll be waiting a long time.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Dec 7, 2009 7:55:09 PM

"Great point Bill and Rod. The dominoes are beginning to fall! Kentucky and Maine State Supreme courts have recently both pronounced that certain retroactive residency restrictions limiting where SO's may live are indeed unconstitutional. (There may be other states that I'm unaware of who have also done so.) Yet, it's clear now powers- that- be are starting to see the gross error in their knee-jerk reactions with legislation over the past decade. I applaud the efforts of the pastor at Miracle Park, FL. Nevertheless, I look for the day when such "colonies" will no longer be necessary within the boarders of this so-called CHRISTIAN nation.

Posted by: dcksb | Dec 7, 2009 5:51:10 AM"

How true and don't forget Alaska. One of the two states who started this illegal and criminal stupidity. They just recently went back again with one of the defendents in the original case and overuled the U.S Supreme Court that the registry had INFACT BECOME PUNISHMENT. There fore ILLEGAL when applied retroactively and tossed it for anyone who's conviction predated passage. I also notice almost all these months later the state has taken no step to appeal since it would go right back to the U.S Supreme Court which would more than likely TOSS the entire thing.

Posted by: rodsmith3510 | Dec 8, 2009 2:35:56 AM

bill: "How do you know any of what you claim here?"

me: i grew up in an area where the vast majority of the population were christian right. so i've had a lot of exposure.

what I said was about the leaders of the christian right - not the laymembers. many of the lay members of the religious right are well meaning people who have unfortunately come under the spell of persons who want to use religion for financial gain or political power. while not every major christian right leader has been involved in a sex scandal, a very large percentage were. the results about the secretly gay are really limited to those pushing the "homosexuality is a choice" and the "ex-gay" movement. i would never mean to imply that every member of the christian right is involved - just a shockingly large percentage of their national leaders. and local leaders too - having the pleasure of having lived in a place where they would actually have mass arrests of homosexuals, the majority of those arrested were very active in their churches.

bill: "I don't know if all of them are lying. But most of them are, as you know just as well as I do."

me: I do not believe it is our place to judge the sincerity of someone's beliefs.

Posted by: virginia | Dec 8, 2009 3:05:36 PM

Ginny --

Just two points:

1. I thought it was reasonably clear that what I meant by asking you how you knew what you were asserting "here," was how you knew that a "large percentage of the christian right...seem to end up at gay bars or picking up male prostitutes."

By saying a "large percentage," you must have had something specific in mind. So I'm still curious about what the percentage is, exactly, and how you know.

I suspect you're just stereotyping, but I will stand to be corrected by specific, documented figures.

2. " I do not believe it is our place to judge the sincerity of someone's beliefs."

I wasn't questioning the sincerity of their beliefs. I was questioning the truthfulness of their assertions of fact.

When people are public officials, as I once was, it's not their job (except in unusual instances) to size up somebody's "sincerity." But it is very much their job to figure out what's the truth.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Dec 8, 2009 5:16:17 PM

I appreciate all you are doing to educate people on the sex offender registry laws. As co-owner of www.rallypointusa.com I ask you to take a look at share it with others. We have created the first and only social networking site dedicated to those affected by the registry. Currently the majority of members are mothers of young offender. As the community grows this may change. RallyPointUSA is not a group in its self but a platform for groups and individuals to find support from each other. We have members from at least 18 states. We plan to start a marketing campaign in the new year. I hope you visit us

Thank you
RPUSA

Posted by: RPUSA | Dec 12, 2009 5:33:52 PM

Post a comment

In the body of your email, please indicate if you are a professor, student, prosecutor, defense attorney, etc. so I can gain a sense of who is reading my blog. Thank you, DAB